The fizz that could be fatal

An ingredient widely used as a preservative in fizzy soft drinks has triggered alarm for several years but now it may be even more dangerous than was believed. Sodium benzoate (E211) has been identified, when linked with vitamin C in soft drinks, as a combination that forms benzene, a recognised carcinogen. The Food Standards Agency ordered four fizzy drinks removed from sale last year after unsafe levels of benzene were detected, though it is still present in many other soft drinks. Now scientists at Sheffield University have identified another danger from E211 in that when it was tested on living yeast cells in a laboratory it was seen that the benzoate was damaging an important area of DNA. Peter Piper, the lead researcher, stated that ‘these chemicals have the ability to cause severe damage to DNA in the mitochondria to the point that they totally inactivate it: they knock it out altogether. If the mitochondria is damaged then the cell starts to malfunction very seriously”. Diseases that are linked with damage to this DNA include Parkinson’s, cirrhosis of the liver, a number of neuro-degenerative diseases and of course the whole process of ageing. I am a great advocate of label checking, I am the one standing in the supermarket aisle for ten minutes trying to read the small print, and in this case it would be sensible to see whether your favourite soft drink contains the vitamin C and E211 combination.